“Chris was a guest star,” Meskimen recalled to Fox News Digital. “He was a young comic starting out. I don’t think the episode was as successful as it was imagined to be. He was supposed to portray Will Smith’s female cousin, I believe. At some point, they had him dress up in drag. It might’ve looked good on paper, but it was off the mark in real life. He did not make for a very attractive woman with his scruffy little beard.”
“But everybody got along fine,” he chuckled. “Chris was easy to work with. He was very professional and funny. He was still finding his way as a sitcom actor. He’s obviously mastered all of that since then. But when you’re in your 20s and suddenly thrust on a national television show, it’s a bit hard to know how far to go, what kind of traditions to honor, what kind of things to neglect. You want to stay true to yourself, but you realize you’re fitting into something larger than you are. I imagine he maybe didn’t feel as confident as he would’ve been on the comedy stage. But he was very nice to me and everyone else.”
Rock, 57, played two roles with Smith, 53, on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” He doubled up as a popular actor named Maurice Perry and his sister Jasmine. Rock’s guest appearance was featured during episode 2, Season 6 titled “Get a Job,” which aired in 1995.
“There was no animosity,” said Meskimen. “I thought they worked together really well. They had very different energies, but they were very friendly to each other. And it looked like they went on to be friends for quite some time. It was a good pairing. Will was very friendly, outgoing and a good host. People were coming to his house to work on his show. They were guests. But he treated everyone with respect, me included. He made everyone feel welcomed right away and the set was fun. We would even make a big circle where we’d put our arms around one another and wish each other the best. There was a nice spirit on set.”
After “Fresh Prince,” Rock and Smith were photographed together at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, where they were seen laughing together. Then in 1999, they played themselves in the Spike Jonze project “Torrance Rises.” In 2005, Rock presented Smith with a prized blimp at the Kids’ Choice Awards. Five years later in 2010, Rock and Smith reunited at the show. They posed together alongside Smith’s son, Jaden Smith, for photographers.
Rock has also had a working relationship with Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. The two held roles in the 2005 animated film “Madagascar,” as well as its two sequels, “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” in 2008 and “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” in 2012.
But trouble between the stars may have started in 2016 when Rock, who hosted the Oscars that year, called out Pinkett Smith’s decision to skip the ceremony. He also joked about Smith, who wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award.
Tensions escalated on Sunday during the Oscars when Rock made a joke about Pinkett Smith’s shaved hairstyle ahead of introducing the best documentary nominees.
Pinkett Smith, 50, revealed in 2018 that she was diagnosed with alopecia. She has often discussed the challenges of hair loss on Instagram and other social media platforms.
The joke missed, badly.
Her husband walked onto the stage from his front-row seat and took a swing at Rock with an open palm, generating a loud smack. Smith walked back to his seat and shouted for Rock to leave Pinkett Smith alone. Rock replied that he was just making a “G.I. Jane” joke – and Smith yelled back at him a second time.
Smith shouted at Rock to “keep my wife’s name out of your f—-ing mouth,” and the crowd hushed as it became clear this was no act.
“The reality is, when you’re a mammoth star, any little thing you do will be scrutinized, recorded and commented on,” Meskimen reflected. “I think that’s fair. They’re public people. And when a star makes a real misstep, as I believe Will Smith did, it will have an enormous effect. It was a real unpleasant moment because it just seemed so out of character. Nobody could have predicted that. I know he’s gone on to apologize. And just as we appreciate empathy in other people, we should also exercise forgiveness. Those are both important qualities to fall back on. There’s a great need for empathy and kindness now more than ever because repercussions can travel quickly.”
Meskimen said he’s hopeful the pair will “grow” from the experience.
“Always take full responsibility for what you’ve done,” he explained. “I’ve had missteps and misdeeds in my life and in my career. The only way I’ve been able to move past it without having to hold it down out of sight for the rest of my life is to take full responsibility. What did I do to precipitate it? What did I do to commit such an error? Our impulse is to blame others. But generally, that’s not the way out. The most important part of the story is, what did I do? How can I take responsibility for my actions? My words?”
“I think they’ll be able to be friends again,” Meskimen continued. “There’s that song, ‘You Always Hurt the One You Love.’… [But] we shouldn’t make light of an assault. I’ve had it happened to me where people make fun of me in front of others, in front of a large group. They say something that is supposed to be entertaining, but in fact, it’s offensive and hurtful. At that point, I look at it as an opportunity for me. I have an opportunity to show grace, tolerance and understanding. Or it’s an opportunity to make an a– of myself. You want to make the most of those opportunities. And when you’re a big star in the public eye, there are lots of opportunities to establish your brand and reputation through your behavior. I hope both Chris and Will get ideas on how to handle things better.”
Before Smith won his first Oscar, Meskimen spoke to Fox News Digital about what it was like working with him on the “Fresh Prince” set.
“Like everyone else, I’m hugely impressed by how far he’s come as an actor,” he said days before the televised ceremony. “This was a rap artist from Philly who’s now a mammoth star. But he’s always had a tremendous amount of personal magneticsm. Somebody once said on set that he had an Elvis vibe. I’ve never met Elvis, but he certainly has this very attractive quality. He’s a guy you want to spend time with and hear what he has to say. And when you’re a superstar, there’s an impulse to share everything with us. That’s very risky. But it also demonstrates personal freedom that, I think, we all aspire to. But even then, he demonstrated pure talent, humor, skill and inventiveness. He’s pretty irresistible.”
Following the altercation, spokespeople for Smith, Pinkett Smith and Rock didn’t immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s requests for comment.
On Monday, Smith issued an apology on Instagram, saying he was “out of line” and that his actions “are not indicative of the man I want to be.”
“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive,” wrote Smith. “My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally. I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”
The star added apologies to the Academy, producers of the telecast, attendees, viewers and the Williams family. Smith was honored Sunday for his role as Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena Williams.
“I am a work in progress,” added Smith.
The Academy has since claimed they attempted to remove Smith from the show but he refused. They also started “disciplinary proceedings.”
On Wednesday, Rock addressed the incident for the first time.
“How was your weekend?” Rock asked a sold-out crowd at the Wilbur, a theater of 1,200 seats in Boston. “I had a whole list of jokes. I had a whole show I wrote before this weekend, and I’m still kind of processing what happened.”
“At some point I’ll talk about that s—, and it will be serious, and it will be funny,” he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.